Acclaimed Australian actress Lola Nixon began her career in 1949 on the legendary Tivoli Theatre circuit. In 1967 she stepped onto the stage at Melbourne's Her Majesty’s Theatre, as Nancy in JC Williamsons' fabled production of Oliver. Forty years later, she returns to the same stage to play Grandma in the smash hit, Billy Elliot The Musical.

Ahead of the Melbourne debut of this much anticipated musical, based on the multi-award winning film with music by Elton John, Anna Lozynski spoke to Lola Nixon.

Lola Nixon 1. Lola, you play the role of ‘Grandma’ in this acclaimed musical. What excites you most about the role?
Getting to play the character of Grandma. She’s endured hardships all through her life but she still finds the joy in things. The one thing that’s always made her happy is dancing so she has a great understanding of Billy and his love of dance. She see’s the chance that Billy has and she understands what it means for him. She has a great love for Billy.

2. There are six actors cast in the lead role, ‘Billy Elliot’. In effect, this means you have six stage grandchildren. What was involved in your role preparation with each of the Billy boys, being Lochlan, Rhys, Dayton, the two Joshuas and Michael? 
In one way, the boys’ own training is quite a separate process so I have always tried to build a very Grandmotherly relationship with each of them. I also had the chance to meet some of the boys Grandparents when we were in Sydney.

You have had extensive experience in musical theatre performing in Oliver, 42nd Street and Chicago. What makes being a part of this musical production special? 
It’s very special, as before this show I was semi-retired. However, when this role came along I thought well, I’ll have a go at it, never thinking I would get it. Now being here at Her Majesty’s Theatre, where I did my very first show, Oliver in 1967, I have come full circle to be performing here in another show that’s full of children. I’m very happy and very proud to be a part of it.

The musical comes to Melbourne after having had a successful run in Sydney.  What was the most memorable event from that season?
Opening Night in Sydney was memorable when Elton John joined the Company for the Finale. Other than that, there’s not one thing that stands out as more memorable than the others. The difference that each boy brings to the role of Billy each night makes each performance a surprise and different. It keeps it vibrant and fresh.

5. Like the character, Billy, have you achieved any one of your ambitions or dreams against the odds?  
Well, I’ve been doing this since I was 14 years old so to be doing this at 73 is an achievement in itself. Every day is a bonus – Billy gives me that bonus.

Having started your acting career almost 60 years ago, it is fair to say you have experienced much of Australian theatre, as well as television and film. How does the present day theatre/musical circuit compare to when you first became involved in it? 
It’s totally different. When I started we had no microphones, only foot microphones at the front of the stage. One really had to learn how to project their voice. Now it’s all very modern and technical. It is still thrilling and wonderful though. Nothing will ever replace live theatre.

7. It was 41 years ago you opened as Nancy in Oliver in the same theatre. What do you now know that you wish you had discovered at the beginning of your career?
I was raised in Vaudeville and was lucky enough to have the wonderful experience of working with some of the greats: people like Jim Gerald, George Wallace, Lulla Fanning, Roy Rene Mo with whom I worked the Tivoli and Harry Wren circuits. What little I do know now, I learnt from all those people. They were the best teachers.

What inspires you to remain on stage? 
It’s my life. It’s what keeps me going.

Describe your pre-performance ritual. Has it changed over the course of your career?   
I still like to have 5 minutes of quiet before each show and sometimes I still talk to my mum. She was my best friend so if she does not wish me luck on opening night, I know I won’t have any.

What do you do to relax? 
I like to walk. I like to go and see other shows, to see what’s going on. I like to read. And I do like a good drop of red!

Finally, what have you planned for Christmas Day?
I’ll be spending it quietly with friends here in Melbourne.

Billy Elliot the Musical is currently in previews and Opens at Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne, on December 31. Further information»

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